The intense-looking eleven-year old kid sitting across from me in the library peers at the passing adults from beneath a fresh brush cut. A stack of homework stands on the short table in front him, a huge binder of tabbed, well-organized dividers and a wash of pencils and highlighters that blend with a stack of library books and research papers printed from the internet. He sips a cup of coffee and peers through a heavy brow, eyes sliding side to side at the grown-ups milling around him.
He watches the library monitor who is ignoring the quiet study etiquette of the building to debate politics with the ladies in the gift shop. None are particularly attractive, just housewives and widows who click their tongues and wag their heads as the man with the pot belly makes his point. He waves a clipboard like a sideline football coach, adjusts his eye glasses at the temple, and motors along in a heavy Eastern European accent with authority.
The kid with brush cut and heavy eyebrows studies them the way I caught him eyeing me when I walked up, the way a raccoon assesses all movement for its level of threat. I understand childhood weirdness.
Around age eight the adult world became a shore I couldn’t swim to fast enough. At nine I was writing book reports at college level and at eleven had begun brewing and sipping coffee like the over-worked advertising salesman I’d become. There was something about that world ahead that people weren’t letting me in on just yet, feeding me lines about Santa Claus and the joy of backyard ballgames. But the thing I wanted most was to walk into a group of my father’s friends, listen in without someone scruffing my hair, and interject something relevant to the conversation.
I look up and the kid is gone. He’s collected his binder and books, pencils, papers and markers and moved on, leaving only a steam ring from the coffee cup. I swing to my left and there he is, striding toward a pretty schoolgirl his age dressed in cheek-defining sweats and snug hoodie, her hair beautiful and shining, teeth railed with braces. The kid strolls right toward her, coffee cup in hand, backpack swinging confidently, and is steps away when suddenly the girl comes face to face with another boy and meets his lips with hers. The brush cut kid swerves like a sedan taking a freeway exit down a row of shelves, pretending to look for something, watching.
When the couple disappears from sight, holding hands, she with her binder against her chest and Ugg boots stomping, the brush cut kid’s eyes shift back to the chattering in the Gift Shop. He steps toward them with a newly feigned sense of purpose, and he’s halfway there when I realize: I’ve found my prodigy. Because no one will know better than you, kid, how to get people to buy into a life they missed the first time around.
published 19 December 2012